Enjoy Historic Matsumoto City
Matsumoto Castle is without doubt the beacon that draws visitors to the city but once here, you’ll discover a lovely little town with plenty to keep you entertained for a day. Once a wealthy merchant town, areas of Matsumoto retain its historic charm interspersed with modern development which caters to a burgeoning arts, music and food scene.
Most visitors to the Matsumoto will arrive and depart via Matsumoto Station. All attractions listed below – in addition to the castle – are within walking distance of the station making each readily accessible for day-visitors or if you are staying overnight.
Nawate-Dori/ Kaeru Michi
This quaint alley is home to food vendors, craft and antique stores of shops, cafes, and restaurants. Approximately 5 minutes walk from the castle, this small but cute precinct is one of the city’s most charming little discoveries. Following a river, Nawate-Dori is more commonly referred to as ‘Kaeru Michi’ or ‘Frog Street’. Once raucous with sound of croaking frogs in the river, the resident ‘kaeru’ (frogs) took refuge in higher ground many years ago as a typhoon approached.
To the great sadness of the store owners and local people, the frogs never returned. Overtime the street became decorated with everything frog-related, first in an effort to bring them back but now in-place of the frogs who are gone but far from forgotten.
The street boasts some seriously good food vendors selling ‘soba’ and ‘udon’, ‘taiyaki’ (pictured above) and ‘senbei’ and is well-worth a stroll – especially for those frog-fans amongst us or if you’re searching for a unique souvenir or antique while in Japan.
Located near the end of Nawate Street, Yohashira Shirine is unusual among Shinto shrines in that it is dedicated to four deities. The name ‘Yohashira’ translates to ‘four pillars’ and with four gods in residence, the shrine is said to have particular power and sought-out by those looking to have an important wish granted. Conveniently located near the intersection of Nawate/Frog Street and the road leading to the castle, a quick visit to the shrine is worthwhile as you may as well try your luck and see if your wish comes true!
Midway between the station and castle – and running parallel to Nawate/Frog Street on the other side of the river – Nakamichi is an attractive street known for the preservation of its many traditional storehouses and merchant buildings. The distinctive white and black, criss-crossed pattern decorates the bottom half of the buildings, imbuing the street scene with a unique and pleasing character.
The street is known for its many stores selling traditional crafts including lacquerware, pottery and woodcraft. Several restaurants, cafes, confectionaries, good coffee houses and Matsumoto Beer Brewery’s small store make Nakamichi and the surrounding side streets worth exploring.
Kurassic-kan is a restored ‘nihonshu’ (sake) warehouse which is now a public space which hosts events and exhibitions throughout the year.
Matsumoto City Museum of Art inc. Kusama Yayoi Collection
As hometown to arguably Japan’s most famous contemporary artist, Kusama Yayoi, it is no surprirse to find that the city’s art museum houses a permanent exhibition of her artwork. Any visitor to the city will soon notice the many polka-dotted features of Matsumoto – in homage to her distinctive style of art.
Visitors will certainly notice Kusama’s large installation which sits outside the museum! The Museum of Art also exhibits works by other local artists and travelling exhibitions of both Japanese and international artists.
As a style of art, ‘ukiyo-e’ or ‘floating world’ is a little hard to define. Encapsulating a period in history and subject matter as much it does a form of art, ukiyo-e captures the ephemeral, hedonistic world and occupations of Edo Period Japan.
Japan’s most famous artist, Hokusai Katsushika, was the master of ukiyo-e and this small but engaging museum displays several of his original works among many other artists. The collection is regularly rotated in order that visitors, including local residents, have the opportunity to see the entire collection over time.
Natural Springs & Historic Wells
Matsumoto is blessed with an abundant supply of ground water, which comes to the surface as fresh spring wells. Literally dotted through the city, you can’t miss these surprising features in a modern, urban centre!
The water is pure and safe to drink and locals relish quenching their thirst with the natural spring water, especially in the heat of summer. Just look for the pumps and shimmering basins of water. They really are there for you to enjoy!
Ishii Miso Brewery
Matsumoto is one of Japan’s largest and most highly regarded producers of ‘miso’. Made from fermented soybean, the world of miso is rich, diverse and surprising. As one of the oldest miso breweries in the city, Ishii Miso continues to use traditional practices and friendly, English-speaking staff will happily provide a tour of the brewery. Sitting down to lunch while there is a great way to start your culinary exploration of the city.
Finally, though known for its historic importance, Matsumoto is also home to a burgeoning arts, music and food scene. Spurred by the international fame of Yajoi Kusama and the ‘Suzuki Method’ – a revolutionary music curriculum – both of which call Matsumoto home, the city’s profile as a creative hub is growing with many fantastic initiatives and independent stores opening-up each year.
It’s well worth grabbing a coffee and just wandering the streets where you’re certain to find another great café, bookstore, independent designer, craft beer brewery or any one of the city’s many fantastic restaurants. While the castle demands that you visit, it’s the many unexpected trimmings and discoveries that will keep you in Matsumoto!
Want to visit any of these destinations on a private tour or charter? Feel free to contact us and let’s get planning together!